Christianity 201

April 26, 2013

We Are All Terrible at Morality

Christian singer Jimmy Needham blogged this earlier this month under the title Good Luck Being Good.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth. beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain
4. Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you.
5. Honor your father and your mother
6. You shall not murder.
7. And you shall not commit adultery.
8. And you shall not steal.
9. And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’(Deuteronomy 5:7-21 Edited)

Jimmy NeedhamIsrael was summoned to a meeting. Down from the mountain came Moses to speak to God’s people. What followed would become one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture. Churches, city centers, courthouses and classroom walls would all be emblazoned with these words millennia later.  Folks would build whole cultures around them. Major motion pictures would be made about them. Men would lose status and reputation for upholding them. Others would lose their lives for ignoring them. These words have undergone such scrutiny, so many interpretations, applications and misuses that there is hardly anyone (at least, any westerner) without an opinion on what has come to be known as the Decalogue, or the 10 Commandments.

So the scene has been set. God issues 10 Commandments to His people to obey completely. Picture yourself standing at the mountain’s base for a minute. Fire and smoke swirl all around you. The Lord of glory’s majestic voice bellows through you as you hear Him speaking from heaven. What awe you must feel at His words! What terror! What can you say? What should you say? Well I’ll tell you what Israel said: “Yessir!”. Israel said to Moses,

“Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” (Deut. 5:27).

Now, maybe this promise doesn’t phase you. God said “obey” and the people said “done”. No big deal, right? The problem is, Israel wrote a check they simply couldn’t cash. Look at God’s words to them about their noble pledge.

“And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:28-29)

You get the sense that the heart of God was touched at their promise, but ultimately the wisdom of God knew better. He said “O that they had such a heart”. What was God’s response to His people when the pledged allegiance to Him and promised to obey His commands? He said that they didn’t have the heart to do it. I believe that this phrase is one of the most important passages in all of Scripture. It’s important because it’s the exact same thing God says to us when we think that we can be good enough to meet His perfect standard. “O that they had such a heart”.

C.S. Lewis once said, “No man knows how bad he is till he as tried very hard to be good”. I don’t know about you, but I was raised with the understanding that the Commandments were the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Good people kept them. Bad people broke them. It was important, therefore, to do your best to obey. What I didn’t know was that the same Bible that told to obey also told me I lacked the ability to do so! The thing is, you don’t need to be taught this truth. Just go try to be good for one day. I mean, really good. How’d it go? Fact: We are all terrible at morality. Even when we get the external actions down, our heart’s internal motives are usually selfish and prideful the whole time. God demands goodness. Worse, God demands perfection, and all we do is sin. Is there any hope for us?

The answer is yes! But it isn’t found in more trying. Believe it or not, it’s found in open-heart surgery. Many centuries later, God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel to the nation of Israel. Through the Prophet God gave His people insider information on how he intended to fix their sin problem.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

The problem: God demands our obedience but our hearts won’t let us obey him because they are sinful. God’s solution: Give us a new heart. He removes that old stony heart that doesn’t care for Him and gives us one that beats for the things He loves. This was fulfilled after Jesus rose from the grave and sent His Spirit to live inside every believer. This is the great promise of the Old Testament fulfilled!

I pray this comes as a relief to those of us who have tried to be good enough for so long and have always failed. May we learn to cease trying in our own power and yield to the Spirit of God who gives us new desires and causes us to be obedient. Maybe you read this and think, “I have no idea what this means. I thought Christianity was about being good and moral.” May I say to you, there is only one way to be good, and it’s not by working harder. It’s by trusting in and treasuring the one who worked on your behalf, Jesus Christ. He achieved what we could not: Pleasing God perfectly. Give Him your sin and let Him give you His goodness. Then you will truly be free to obey all God has commanded you, for His glory and your good.

March 11, 2013

Romans 5 in The Voice has added The Voice to its list of available translations. This is a truly different approach to Bible translation. Some of you will immediately resonate with what the translators had in mind and will gravitate toward this fresh approach. For others who prefer the traditional approach to scripture, this is not the version for you.  At the Bible Gateway blog, they highlight the unique aspects of the translation:

  • The Voice BibleThe Voice uses a screenplay format for dialogue and conversations. One advantage to this style is that it removes the need for lots of repetitive conjunctions and verbs (“he said,” “she replied,” etc.) that slow down reading. It also lets the translators use some clever and useful ways to convey key details: for example, in Matthew 8, note the use of stage directions to add detail and clearly identify the audience.
  • Words and phrases in italics represent words that aren’t found in the original text, but which are important for bringing out the original intended meaning of the passage. In the words of The Voice translators, this brings out “the nuance of the original, assist[s] in completing ideas, and often provide[s] readers with information that would have been obvious to the original audience. These additions are meant to help the modern reader better understand the text without having to stop and read footnotes or a study guide.” Here’s an example from Romans 6.
  • Another feature you’ll quickly encounter upon reading The Voice is its collection of explanatory material embedded in with the Bible text. These short paragraphs contain devotional material, study notes, background information, and other clarifying detail of the sort that you might typically find in a study Bible or commentary. These notes are placed near the passages they’re expounding on, and are clearly delineated from the text of Scripture as seen … in Romans 7.

Learn much more about the translation here. Also, I recently reviewed a book which tells the story of this version.

Our reading for today is from The Voice; I had chosen ahead of time to also use a chapter of Romans, but I selected Romans 5.

Note: While The Voice uses boxed and indented sections, that was not possible here. Scripture text in green is a convention we use here at C201, but the green and blue is not part of the original formatting of this Bible edition.

Romans 5

The Voice (VOICE)

In God’s plan to restore a fallen and disfigured world, Abraham became the father of all of us, the agent of blessing to everyone. Jesus completes what God started centuries before when He established Abraham’s covenant family. Those who put faith in Jesus and call Him “Lord” become part of Abraham’s faith family. Because God is gracious, loving, and merciful, men and women from every corner of the earth are not only declared right, but ultimately are made right as well. It happens through God’s actions—not our efforts—in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who was crucified for our misdeeds and raised to repair what has been wrong all along. So the promises of God made long years ago are being realized in men and women who hear the call of faith and answer “yes” to it.

  Since we have been acquitted and made right through faith, we are able to experience true and lasting peace with God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, the Liberating King. Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory. And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance, which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

When the time was right, the Anointed One died for all of us who were far from God, powerless, and weak. Now it is rare to find someone willing to die for an upright person, although it’s possible that someone may give up his life for one who is truly good. But think about this: while we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us. As a result, the blood of Jesus has made us right with God now, and certainly we will be rescued by Him from God’s wrath in the future. 10 If we were in the heat of combat with God when His Son reconciled us by laying down His life, then how much more will we be saved by Jesus’ resurrection life? 11 In fact, we stand now reconciled and at peace with God. That’s why we celebrate in God through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.

12 Consider this: sin entered our world through one man, Adam; and through sin, death followed in hot pursuit. Death spread rapidly to infect all people on the earth as they engaged in sin.

God’s gift of grace and salvation is amazing. Paul struggles to find the words to describe it. He looks everywhere around him to find a metaphor, an image, a word to put into language one aspect of this awesome gift. One of those is “reconciliation.” There is hardly anything more beautiful than to see two people who have been enemies or estranged or separated coming back together. When Paul reflects on what God has done through Jesus, he thinks about reconciliation. Before we receive God’s blessing through His Son, we are enemies of God, sinners of the worst sort. But God makes the first move to restore us to a right relationship with Him.

13 Before God gave the law, sin existed, but there was no way to account for it. Outside the law, how could anyone be charged and found guilty of sin? 14 Still, death plagued all humanity from Adam to Moses, even those whose sin was of a different sort than Adam’s. You see, in God’s plan, Adam was a prototype of the One who comes to usher in a new day. 15 But the free gift of grace bears no resemblance to Adam’s crime that brings a death sentence to all of humanity; in fact, it is quite the opposite. For if the one man’s sin brings death to so many, how much more does the gift of God’s radical grace extend to humanity since Jesus the Anointed offered His generous gift. 16 His free gift is nothing like the scourge of the first man’s sin. The judgment that fell because of one false step brought condemnation, but the free gift following countless offenses results in a favorable verdict—not guilty. 17 If one man’s sin brought a reign of death—that’s Adam’s legacy—how much more will those who receive grace in abundance and the free gift of redeeming justice reign in life by means of one other man—Jesus the Anointed.

18 So here is the result: as one man’s sin brought about condemnation and punishment for all people, so one man’s act of faithfulness makes all of us right with God and brings us to new life. 19 Just as through one man’s defiant disobedience every one of us were made sinners, so through the willing obedience of the one man many of us will be made right.

20 When the law came into the picture, sin grew and grew; but wherever sin grew and spread, God’s grace was there in fuller, greater measure. No matter how much sin crept in, there was always more grace. 21 In the same way that sin reigned in the sphere of death, now grace reigns through God’s restorative justice, eclipsing death and leading to eternal life through the Anointed One, Jesus our Lord, the Liberating King.

January 6, 2012

…Then Why Do Good?

Doug Wolter posted this on his blog, and the synopsis at the end of the message is worth the price of admission; but if you have the 45 minutes, you get to watch a great message, too. It appeared on his blog under the title:

If I’m accepted in Christ, why do good?

by Doug Wolter

[Recently] I got to see Tullian Tchvidjian preach at Southern Seminary. I love his focus on the gospel of grace. Toward the end of his message he asked an interesting question: If Christ accepts me based on his righteousness and not mine, then what is my motivation to do good? In other words, if I have a great day, I’m accepted, if I have a bad day, I’m accepted. So why do good? He answered the question with a quote from Spurgeon:

When I thought God was hard, I found it easy to sin; but when I found God so kind, so good, so overflowing with compassion, I smote upon my breast to think that I could ever have rebelled against One who loved me so, and sought my good.

In other words, the deeper I go into the gospel, the greater my motivation toward obedience. I encourage you to watch this message and be amazed again at God’s grace for desperate sinners like you and me.

August 20, 2011

Commandment Keeping: Prerequisite to God’s Favor, or Fruit of Grace?

More from the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law.  The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21).  This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe.  The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18).  This is what he is like.  His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy.  At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.”  The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here.  I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God.  The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God.  While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc.  That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation.  So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God.